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Voters Head To Polls In U.K.

Dec 12, 2019
Originally published on December 12, 2019 6:44 am
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NOEL KING, HOST:

British citizens vote today to try to resolve an issue that has paralyzed the U.K.'s political system for more than three years. Yes, I am talking about Brexit. The stakes are high. The electorate is exhausted. The two main candidates for prime minister are deeply polarizing. And NPR's Frank Langfitt is in London. He brought us this.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Prime Minister Boris Johnson is running on a pledge to get the United Kingdom out of the European Union by the end of January no matter what.

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PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON: Our country can choose between going forward, punching through the current deadlock and achieving a brighter future together, or we can remain stuck in neutral, paralyzed with more deadlock, defeatism, division and drift.

LANGFITT: By contrast, opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has refused to take a side on Brexit. He says he'll leave it to voters to choose between a new Brexit withdrawal agreement or staying in the EU. Instead, Corbyn wants to radically transform Britain's economy to address income inequality.

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JEREMY CORBYN: You've got a government in office that slashed the services and the spending on people, ordinary people all across the country and, at the same time, given tax relief and tax write-offs at the top end to the very wealthiest. We're a more divided society than we've ever been.

LANGFITT: Corbyn, who goes by the nickname Jezza, wants to renationalize the rail system and make universities tuition-free. That socialist message inspires devotion among some Labour voters, like Maya Amara (ph), who works in school administration.

MAYA AMARA: Love him. He is great. I think he's for the people. I think he's very pro-working class. And his views are just very liberal. And I think you need someone like that in power. He's the best. Go Jezza.

LANGFITT: But Corbyn and his Labour Party are running nearly 10 percentage points behind Johnson and his Conservatives in recent polls. One reason - Johnson's clear message on Brexit has united both those who support it and those who are just sick of the issue and want it resolved.

ADAM JAMES: Oh, here we go. Oh, here we go.

LANGFITT: Adam James (ph) sells clothes from a market stall in Romford, a Brexit-voting town in east London.

JAMES: Boris - he's our man to sort us out. Brexit - let's get it done. We've waited long enough, and it's time to move on. He seems like the man for me.

LANGFITT: Another reason Johnson's Conservatives are leading in the polls is because Corbyn is very unpopular nationwide. A poll by YouGov, the survey firm, found that 61% view the Labour leader negatively. Ian Davis (ph) is a retired police officer and Conservative Party voter who lives in the town of Bishop Auckland in the north of England.

IAN DAVIS: Some of the things he's going to promise people he's never going to be able to afford to do it. You know, it's crazy. He's living in a fool's paradise, because there's people that live in this town who have always voted Labour are against him just because it's Corbyn and his Marxist attitude.

LANGFITT: Johnson is also deeply unpopular, with 47% viewing him negatively.

ELLIOTT BEVAN: I don't think his character is what I'd like to see in a prime minister. He's a serial liar.

LANGFITT: Elliott Bevan (ph), who recently graduated from college, is finishing dinner at a pub in Barnard Castle, about 250 miles north of London. Bevan's referring to Johnson's well-documented record of mendacity, which includes misleading voters into thinking that if they backed Brexit, the country could spend an extra $460 million a week on health care.

BEVAN: He's someone who will change his position purely to get to the top. And he's at the top now. That's what he's always wanted, and he'll do anything to cling on to that.

LANGFITT: Polls suggest that Johnson's Conservatives will win enough seats to pass his Brexit withdrawal agreement and get the U.K. out of the EU, but British voters have proven unpredictable and delivered surprises in three of the last four elections.

Frank Langfitt, NPR News, London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.